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BOT approves acquisition of Civic Center

SARASOTA - Florida State's Board of Trustees unanimously approved the acquisition of the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center during its quarterly meeting in Sarasota on Friday morning.
The Civic Center houses the FSU men's and women's basketball teams and is the site of the university's commencement ceremonies. The cost of acquisition is about $7 million - most of it assumed debt - and the university is expected to pick up $4.6 million of the bill. Seminole Boosters Inc. will contribute the remainder.
After Friday's BOT approval, the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center Authority is expected to approve the transfer agreement in a June 13 meeting. The final step is approval from the Florida Board of Governors during its meeting June 20-21.
Florida State will acquire the Civic Center by assuming $5.82 million of debt currently held by the facility, then contribute $1.15 million towards a settlement from a lawsuit filed against the Civic Center Authority. The City of Tallahassee and Leon County will provide $500,000 towards the remainder of the total $1.65 million settlement that stemmed from litigation arising following a plan by a private developer to put a hotel development on the property.
The move will give FSU full control of the 30-year-old venue and opens the door for improvements to what many consider to be the worst basketball venue in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
"You know, we have fantastic sports facilities," FSU President Eric Barron said. "Basketball is the exception."
Seminole Boosters has already committed $3 million to $4 million to help with improvements to the Civic Center once FSU attains the property. Barron said they will come in two elements. First, is a "modest renovation to spruce things up" which will most notably include new seats.
"Those seats are 25 years old. It doesn't look garnet and gold. It looks beaten," Barron said. "It's starting to look kind of rough. The first step of it is let's make it more visually appealing."
Barron said the second part will be to bring in an expert to look at the facility and evaluate major changes in the future. He said that it is possible for seating to be restructured down the road.
The facility will not be re-named once it is owned by FSU according to Barron.
Barron gave a 15-minute presentation to the board on the issue, saying that "this is not the time" for the school to spend $60 to $105 million on a new facility.
He also said that the financial situation in the arena was so dire at one point this past academic year that the bank called the note and was scheduled to take over the property in January of February of this past year, which falls in the heart of basketball season. Florida State had to pre-pay $550,000 to keep the doors open through the spring commencement ceremonies.
"They gave a date and said that the loan had to be repaid by that amount and put it on the distressed property list," Barron said. "Then we sent the signal that this was too important, please don't call the loan. So the bank delayed calling the loan by four months. We had to get involved to keep the doors open."
According to Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center financial documents, the venue's capital assets (land, structure, paving/landscaping, furniture) were valued at $28.5 million in 2010. Operating expenses for the venue, which has been run by the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center Authority, have hovered around $8 million annually in recent years.
Florida State would immediately lease the Civic Center back to the TLCCCA for day-to-day operations until a local bill repealing the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center Authority is passed. At that point, FSU would take control of the day-to-day operations. Barron estimated that this arrangement would give FSU one year to prepare to take the facility over in full.
The move will allow Florida State to make improvements a facility that is arguably the most outdated basketball facility in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Stay tuned for more updates from Friday's BOT meeting.